I remember when I first heard about the sugar sprite/sugar fairy.
It was way back when Michael was just a baby, 13 years ago on the WE_HS egroup. The earliest version I could find came from Kytka, back when she ran Hedgehog Farms (how’s that for a blast from the past?).
The Sugar Sprite
As the weather becomes colder, the Sugar Sprite requires more sugar to
keep warm than she needs in the summer months. So, on Halloween, children
dress up in costumes and go to their friends’ and neighbors’ houses to
collect candy for the needy sprite. Although they do sample some candy along the
way while walking around in the cold night air, Sugar Sprite children place
their candy at the foot of their beds (or outside the front door, etc.)
before going to sleep. During the night, the friendly Sugar Sprite comes in, takes
the candy and leaves a gift of thanks. The Sugar Sprite knows what all
children like, but sometimes the children write letters or make pictures for
the sprite about a week before Halloween so she doesn’t get confused (she
has to visit a lot of children to collect enough sugar for the coming winter!)
I have a couple of friends who do this, and I in no way judge them for it. At first reading, I think it’s a very sweet little story. But when I thought about it for a bit, I realized that it didn’t quite sit well with me. Meditating on it, I saw several issues.
First off, it just seems mean to take children out for candy and then take it away from them. I know, I know, there’s a cute little story to go along with it and you’re giving them a little thank-you gift in return. Still, thinking back to my own childhood days a billion years ago, I would have been really annoyed if someone took my candy while I was sleeping.
Second, what do you do with that candy? Someone paid for it. Someone was mindful about choosing it and taking the time to stand on their front porch and hand it out. It seems like a poor way to repay their hospitality by throwing it out when your child is asleep. And what if you donate it instead? To me, that has its own ethical implications. It’s not good enough for your child, but it’s good enough for a poor child who already has limited nutritional choices? I’m not sure I could personally justify that.
Finally—and to me, this is really the sticking point—it sends a very mixed message. You’re saying it’s great to go trick-or-treating, but not great to have the candy (arguably, at least by my children, the main point of trick-or-treating). And if it’s not OK, it is OK to tell your children no. Really, I promise, it is. It is perfectly acceptable to say “Look, we don’t need all that candy. It’s not healthy. This is what we’re doing instead.” To me, the Sugar Sprite feels a lot like trying to have one foot in each world, and I don’t want to do that. I want to be true to who I am and what I believe. More than that, I want my family to be true to who we are.
So, what can you do instead?
- You could go to a celebration that isn’t centered around candy. This might mean having your own Halloween party with lots of yummy nutritious treats. Or you could find a local event to attend. A third option would be to opt out of the Halloween theme altogether and have a harvest or All Saints Day party.
- You could do limited trick-or-treating: once around the block, or a “trunk-or-treat” event that’s contained to a parking lot, thus limiting how much candy gets brought home.
- You could do trick-or-treating as usual and pool the candy in a “treat jar,” doling out pieces for special occasions. That stuff does not not have an expiration date, trust me.
- You can eat a little bit of candy and use the rest for candy experiments. I actually tend to sort out the cheap “made in China” candy for this purpose, since I am concerned about recalls and testing of this sort of candy in past years.
- You could also sort and save candy for baking. Chocolate bars can replace chocolate chips, M&Ms for cookies, etc.
Personally, I do a combination of these. I let my children each pick out 10 pieces of their very favorite candy. That’s just for them. Then I go through and pull out what I want for candy experiments. The stuff that can be used for baking gets sorted out next and the rest goes in our treat jar.
I worried a little about posting this. It’s one of those things I’ve seen take off in the Waldorf homeschooling community over the last ten years or so, almost to the point of becoming dogma, sort of like Dorothy Harrer’s math gnomes. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the question “What is the heart of Waldorf homeschooling?” lately and the conclusion I have come to is that the main core is being authentic. Get to know who you are at your very core. Get to know your children’s hearts and minds and souls and tailor their education (within limits) around that. And so, if one tradition doesn’t work for you, it really is OK to find another path. I’m in no way talking about moral relativism here, but I think we need to ask ourselves the question “What is the main reason I am doing this?” and then find the route that gets us there. For me, the Sugar Sprite tradition doesn’t feel right. For other families, it’s been working great for years. For all of us, the main goal is to find a way to celebrate the beautiful autumn season with our families in a joyful and meaningful way.